|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
בְּהַר ● B’Har
● What really does Sh’mitah have to with Har Sinai? ●
“Between Sh’mitah & Sinai”
Parshas B’Har leads us right into the laws of Sh’mitah, the seventh year of the agricultural cycle, the Shabbos or Sabbatical of the land, during which one is forbidden to work his field for produce or its preservation. The laws are presented elaborately and are easy enough to understand.
The big question bothering the M’forshim regards the Torah’s introduction to the topic of Sh’mitah. Let’s take a look at that intro and visit that question.
TODAY’S SITE: “B’Har Sinai”
The Sidrah begins, “Vayidabeir Hashem El Moshe B’Har Sinai Leimor”-“And Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai saying,”1 which sparks perhaps one of the most famous questions asked by Rashi, “Mah Inyan Sh’mitah Eitzel Har Sinai?”-“What relevance does Sh’mitah have to Har Sinai?”2
Indeed, the Torah conspicuously deviates from the typical introduction of “Vayidabeir Hashem El Moshe Leimor”-“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying” at the effort of apparently associating Sh’mitah with Har Sinai. The question is why? Adding weight to the question, Rashi argues that all of the Mitzvos were taught to Moshe at Har Sinai. Why then should Sh’mitah be singled out?
So great is the question, “Mah Inyan Sh’mitah Eitzel Har Sinai?” that it is commonly quoted as the Jewish version of the colloquial expression, “What has that got to do with the price of tea in China?” Despite various answers suggested, it still remains an eternal model of unseemly pairings, an idiom of irrelevance. Can we discover any answer that is as equally satisfying as the question is vexing?
Another issue to consider here is that the last time we have even heard of Har Sinai was way back in Sefer Shemos. The fact that Torah went out of its way to revisit that location, here at the end of Sefer Vayikra, is no accident. In this vein, it is also strange that the Torah even presents the laws of Sh’mitah here at all and not earlier where the whole concept was originally introduced to us, also back in Sefer Shemos.3 For this reason, both Rashbam and Ibn Ezra argue that this passage chronologically belongs in Sefer Shemos. And yet, instead of elaborating on this Mitzvah there, the Torah chose to drag Sh’mitah all the way through Shemos to Sefer Vayikra, away from the entire narrative of Har Sinai altogether, fencing it off to discuss it alone. With that said, what connection does Sh’mitah have to Sefer Vayikra, that the Torah waited this long to elaborate on it? Why does this grand reference to Har Sinai belong in Vayikra?
THE MOUNTAIN RANGE: The Span of “Har Sinai”
Furthermore, when browsing through Parshas B’Har alone, one may likely fail to notice that this fenced off section of topics discussed “at Har Sinai” actually carries over to Parshas B’Chukosai which features the Tochachah, or the section of “Admonition” which describes what happens to those who neglect to properly observe Sh’mitah observance.4 Upon finishing its dreadful discourse of curses, the Torah eventually closes this fence and concludes, “Eileh HaChukim V’HaMishpatim V’HaToros Asheir Nasan Hashem Beino U’Vein B’nei Yisrael B’Har Sinai B’Yad Moshe”-“These are the decrees, the ordinances, and the teachings that Hashem gave between Himself and the B’nei Yisrael, at Har Sinai through Moshe.”5
The point is that with the second reference to Sh’mitah in connection to Har Sinai, it is clear that the two are fundamentally connected. The question is what that connection is. If in a free association exercise, a psychoanalyst would say the words “Har Sinai” and “Sh’mitah” is not the the first word that comes to mind, would one be missing something?
All of the above certainly calls for a deeper investigation for the Torah’s presentation of Sh’mitah. Why did the Torah feel the need to fence it off the way it did, what are we, the B’nei Yisrael, supposed to make of its association to the most climactic site of our history, Har Sinai?
SCALING THE MOUNTAIN: “Mah Inyan Sh’mitah Eitzel Har Sinai?”
Concerning this age-old question as to why Har Sinai was mentioned in the introductory Pasuk for the Sh’mitah passage, there are various answers among the M’forshim.
Rashi explains somewhat vaguely that the Torah meant to intimate that just as all of the laws, details, and fine points surrounding Sh’mitah were clearly elaborated on at Har Sinai, so was the case for all of the other Mitzvos.2
This answer as it is should strike one as troubling, because if one thinks about it, most people would not reach this seemingly outrageous conclusion, that just because regarding one Mitzvah, we’re told that it and its details were given over at Sinai, that that means all of the others were as well. To compare all cases to one marginal case study on no basis does not seem logical. If we were being intellectually honest, we would not readily assume that Sh’mitah is the “Binyan Av” or the model for other Mitzvos, but we would in fact assume that Sh’mitah is actually a Chiddush, a novelty, an exception to the rule. The only way we could allow Sh’mitah to serve as a model to other Mitzvos would be to somehow demonstrate that there is something fundamental about Sh’mitah that makes it the clear and obvious candidate to represent the Mitzvos of the Torah at large.
REST STOP: The Mitvah of Sh’mitah
In this vein, before we survey any other M’forshim, let us drop the anchor here at our follow-up investigation of Rashi’s suggestion to discuss the possible, symbolic significance of Sh’mitah.
What exactly is Sh’mitah? It is a Sabbatical of the land that occurs every seven years on the agricultural calendar during which time the B’nei Yisrael must leave their land fallow and refrain from cultivating it for produce. That’s the basic explanation. But, what is the deeper objective of Sh’mitah? Surely, it is a daunting test and a major sacrifice which requires one to step out of his comfort zone for a higher will. There is a fear in not knowing for certain from where one’s sustenance will come, and whether or not one’s needs would be met. As such, Sh’mitah, like a magnified version of Shabbos, challenges a person to put himself into that position so that he realizes that really, the world is Hashem’s and all of his needs are in Hashem’s hands. It challenges a person to realize that life as he knows it depends on his relationship with Hashem and his observance of Hashem’s Torah. In this kind of way, Sh’mitah is actually a representative, a model for all Mitzvos. In this kind of way, observance of Sh’mitah is actually one with the idea of “walking in the decrees” of Hashem, and a model for Torah observance at large.
A LANDMARK: Sh’mitah’s Testimony
Walking this idea out further, S’fas Emes addresses our other question about the inherent connection between S’hmitah and Har Sinai by drawing a salient comparison between them. He explains that both the supernatural revelation at Har Sinai and the miraculous blessings allotted to the observers of Sh’mitah demonstrate G-d’s undoubted ownership and unlimited dominance over the world. Indeed, the Divine experience of Sh’mitah is not quite as grandiose the revelation at Sinai, and perhaps it is not meant to be. Hashem never intended to completely recreate the Sinai experience that was marked by a virtually unfiltered Divine Presence. Sh’mitah is a quieter revelation that the simple farmer can take home with him, in the natural world, reinforcing the same testimony that G-d revealed at Sinai; that He is Master of the world.
Additionally, in the same vein, one may further associate Sh’mitah and Har Sinai in the sense that both concepts serve as eternal evidence to the Divine authenticity of the Torah. At Har Sinai, some three million individuals of Klal Yisrael bore testimony to the giving of the Torah, a scene that couldn’t be fabricated and fantasized. The Torah was “universally” verified among the nation. The theoretical “lie” of Kabbalas HaTorah could not have passed off as legitimate by a group of any thinking people unless it was.
As for the laws of Sh’mitah, no intellectually limited mortal in his right mind would, nor could, come up with such a commandment and guarantee that the people who refrain from working their fields will be blessed with sufficient produce. Those who properly observe Sh’mitah and literally glean the fruits of their lack of labor in return for their loyalty, themselves, attest to the Divine mind behind the law.
All of these ideas are logical and sound, but they answer only about a third of the above difficulties. Not only does this whole Parsha seem to be out of place here in Vayikra. And although we’ve identified a couple of themes that Har Sinai and Sh’mitah share in common, we are not finished. We need to delve even deeper into the essence of Sh’mitah and its relationship with Har Sinai.
THE PEAK OF THE MOUNTAIN: Sh’mitah & Kabbalas HaTorah
The events that took place “B’Har Sinai”-“at Har Sinai” were defining for the B’nei Yisrael. They represent the goal of the nation. Until that point, the people had spent their lives in Egyptian Exile and subjugation. When they were extracted from the house of their bondage, they were released into the wilderness where they would spend seven weeks clawing their way until they reached the foot of Har Sinai. There, they reached their ultimate destination of Kabbalas HaTorah.
But, what did it take for the B’nei Yisrael to reach that destination? We’re taught that, in fact, not all of the B’nei Yisrael did make it to Har Sinai, and that, in actuality, only a fifth of Klal Yisrael merited receiving the Torah, because the other four fifths died in Egypt during Makkas Choshech, the Plague of Darkness.6 Why did so many of the B’nei Yisrael die during Choshech? Because they could not commit themselves to the mission that the Exodus demanded. They were not ready to leave their current lives behind. They felt satisfied with their physical lives as they were and opted not to follow Hashem out of their exile. This ideology is not what made up the Jewish nation or how we merited the revelation of G-d at Sinai and the receiving of His Torah. It took seven long weeks to shake off the remnants of this faulty dogma.
On the contrary, the Jewish nation is defined by the deeds of Yisro, the “first convert” who, unlike the fallen eighty percent of the B’nei Yisrael, made the ultimate sacrifice. Thus, Rashi comments7, that the Torah highlights that Yisro went out “El HaMidbar”-“to the wilderness” to teach us that despite his material prosperity—his great wealth and honor back in Midian (how comfortable he must have been), Yisro recognized that meaning lies with a life of commitment to G-d. It means making the ultimate sacrifice. Thus, he left all of the physicality behind to join the B’nei Yisrael and receive the Torah.
This is the nation who faithfully declared “Na’aseh V’Nishma”-“We will do and we will listen” who were meritorious to experience Kabbalas HaTorah. This is the nation about whom the Navi described, “Lechteich Acharai Bamidbar B’Eretz Lo Zaruah”-“you followed Me into the desert in a land that is not sown.”8 Sure, it was difficult for them, and yes, the nation did express its concerns loudly and clearly, and often disrespectfully. But, they did make the ultimate sacrifice.
Considering all of the above, the connections between Har Sinai and Sh’mitah become even clearer. Both are the culmination of cycles of seven, expressions of faith in G-d’s mastery over the world and His reliability to provide. Moreover, both are marked by our sacrificing of our material lives in which Am Yisrael confronts an “Eretz Lo Zaruah”—a land that is not sown. At Sinai, it was a land of desert and sand, and during Sh’mitah, by Halachic design, the otherwise fertile land may not be sown. Thus, the commitment which Sh’mitah challenges us to make brings us back to Sinai where we originally entered our Bris, our covenant with Hashem.
THE PLATEAU: Sh’mitah’s Place in Toras Kohanim
As to why this topic and Sidrah would be placed in Sefer Vayikra, on a simple level, various M’forshim suggest that the B’nei Yisrael needed to be alerted about the laws of Sh’mitah, for according to the original plan, their arrival into Eretz Yisrael should have been imminent and the laws pertaining to the land would begin to take effect.9, 10 Their ability to remain in the land would depend on these laws.
This certainly acceptable answer might speak to the placement of this Sidrah in terms of timing, but it does not entirely explain why B’Har thematically belongs in Sefer Vayikra. Is there thematic relevance connecting B’Har with the larger Sefer Vayikra?
In light of the apparent relationship between the grand scene of Har Sinai and Sh’mitah, perhaps we could suggest an answer.
We understand now that Har Sinai and Sh’mitah both fundamentally represent the eternal pledge of Kabbalas HaTorah. That pledge is what consecrated us to Hashem. Indeed, accomplishing the feat of reaching Har Sinai and making that eternal commitment is what elevated Klal Yisrael, making them unique among all nations as they were crowned as a Mamleches Kohanim11, a Kingdom of Priests and an Or LaGoyim12, a light unto the nations.
With that, a link to Sefer Vayikra can be detected. Vayikra, or as Chazal call it, Toras Kohanim, is a book that is supposedly devoted to the unique laws surrounding the Kohanim. However, we find various clues of evidence that Toras Kohanim is not merely about the Kohanim of Sheivet Levi, but it emphasizes the holiness of Klal Yisrael as the Mamleches Kohanim for the nations of the world to behold and learn from. That is why Vayikra features a whole section in Parshas Sh’mini devoted to the unique diet of the entire Am Yisrael, not merely the Kohanim. That is why, for example, we have a whole Sidrah in Kedoshim, devoted to the holiness of the entire Klal Yisrael and what that holiness demands of them.
Thus, Toras Kohanim is a banner whose logo is one of royalty which loathes the pursuit of materialism and assimilating with the surrounding nations, a lifestyle adopted by the four fifths who remained behind. The entrance into this kingdom marked by national Kehunah or priesthood, which forever defines the role of the B’nei Yisrael, was at the foot of Har Sinai and is revisited each Sh’mitah. It is not just the recognition that G-d is in charge. It is not just the ability to muster up faith in Divine Providence that defines the nation, but it’s the attitude and commitment of “Na’aseh V’Nishma,” the readiness for total abandonment of the material comforts for the Torah’s sake and the sake of connecting to G-d by all means.
FINAL DESTINATION: Back to Har Sinai
In the end, the willingness to leave behind the physical and to have utmost dedication to the many laws of the Torah with the faith in G-d’s word is the prime focus of Kabbalas HaTorah. It is the unmistakable connection between Sh’mitah and Har Sinai. It is what got the B’nei Yisrael the Torah at Har Sinai in the first place and it is what will keep the Torah with us forever after.
May we all be Zocheh to develop the same mindset which our ancestors had at Sinai as they committed to the Torah, demonstrating their primary concern—spiritual growth and faith in Hashem and hopefully, that same devotion through which we merited the Torah with should be renewed in every subsequent Kabbalas HaTorah until we reach the ultimate destination and revelation of the final Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 25:1
- Citing Toras Kohanim 1:1
- Shemos 23:10-11
- The association between the curses of the Tochachah and the neglect of Sh’mitah is expressly clearly as the Pasuk there states [Vayikra 26:34], “Az Tirtzeh Ha’Oretz Es Shabsosehah Kol Yimei Hashamah V’Atem B’Eretz Oyiveichem Az Tishbas Ha’Oretz V’Hirtzas Es Shabsosehah”-“Then the land will be appeased for its Sabbaticals during all the years of desolation, while you are in the land of your foes; then the land will rest and it will appease for its Sabbaticals.”
- Vayikra 26:46
- See Rashi to Shemos 13:18 citing Mechilta.There, Rashi notes that the word “Chamushim,” which means “armed,” is also related to the word “Chomesh” or a “fifth,” meaning that only a fifth of B’nei Yisrael made it out.
- To Shemos 18:5 citing Mechilta
- Yirmiyah 2:2
- See the comments of Ibn Ezra, Ramban and Sforno to Vayikra 25:1.
- Of course, the plans changed following the Sin of the Spies.
- Shemos 19:6
- Yishaiyah 49:6